Never Stop Driving #22: The $100B Autonomous Bill
Robot drivers may not get tired, but they sure do burn a lot of cash. A recent Bloomberg article estimated that investors have already spent $100 billion in autonomous vehicle R&D at various companies. For that kind of dough, you could buy Ford and General Motors, which would get you, among many things, the first Corvette Z06 off the line, prime seating with Roger Penske at the Indy 500, and at least one corporate jet. But we do not appear to be appreciably closer to widespread autonomous vehicles than we were five years ago.
The article, by Max Chafkin, drew on a McKinsey & Co. report for the financials and quoted many early AV pioneers who now question giddy predictions of robot drivers. Google’s Waymo division, with millions of testing miles and the Google cash machine behind it, has tested autonomous cars for a decade, yet they are still confined to small pilot operations. The timelines for widespread AV usage are continually delayed.
New technology is always a risk. The whole point of a research and development budget is to experiment and perhaps develop a new business or competitive edge. For over a decade now, proprietary software and hardware for autonomous drivers seemed like a must-have for any company in the transportation space.
Last week, I mentioned Akio Toyoda’s refusal to jump, both feet in, into development of battery-powered vehicles. He’s having to defend what is, in my opinion, a rational decision. According to an article in Automotive News, Toyoda claimed that his company can produce eight plug-in hybrids with 40 miles of electric range for every 320-mile battery-electric vehicle, which would ultimately mean less overall carbon emissions. That’s because most people don’t drive more than 35 miles a day, so those eight plug-in cars would largely be driven in EV mode.
Do Toyoda’s statements and the Bloomberg article signal that we’re entering a new phase where practical realism trumps overly optimistic PR statements? Perhaps, but there’s too much need for robot drivers, especially in the trucking industry, for there to be any significant spending reduction in AV research. There’s simply a new awareness that it’s all going to take much longer for widespread adoption than the original rosy predictions. We’re talking a decade or more.
In the meantime, I’ll keep this video on continual playback, just to hear the unique howl of the Audi RS3’s five-cylinder engine and watch Jason Cammisa drag-race the two best-sounding street cars ever produced, the Lexus LFA and the Porsche Carrera GT. It’s an unforgettable flick for its imagery, humor, cars, sounds, fury, and, well, you get the picture.
This was a huge week in Hagerty video land. I am thrilled to announce that Tony Angelo, who started off in the drift world and can build nearly anything his creative mind imagines, has brought his creative mechanical skills to Hagerty. In his first video for Hagerty he begins building a hot-rod Firebird with a supercharged Pontiac V-8. Make sure to subscribe to the channel so you don’t miss any of this and future projects.
Want to see how far cars have some in 120 odd years? Check out Don Sherman’s review on a 1906 Cadillac. We also have a new regular feature by Kyle Smith, who will bring us adventures from inside his shop and join Rob Siegel to teach us all a few DIY things. And finally don’t miss this piece from Eric Weiner, who runs Hagerty.com/media, about a French classic and a new Tesla.
I hope our efforts add to your enjoyment of the car hobby.
Have a great weekend!
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